Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Can Life be Tied up in a Knott?

If there's one thing that annoys me the most when it comes to stories or movies are bad endings. Yes, the writer may have the reader/viewer on the edge of the seat, eagerly anticipating the MC's next move, hoping that they will survive and overcome the obstacles that have been tossed at them from every angle... and then that happens. What is that? 'THAT' is an ending that leaves the reader or viewer unsatisfied.

I love to read and watch movies, and there are several traps that some fall into that I really regret staying to find out the ending (and often I'm actually enjoying the book or movie). These are:

  1. Saturday Morning Cartoons Ending
    This is where everything is tied up in a nice little bow, express delivered to the reader. You can't forget the happy little group laugh where everyone gathers around the campfire singing 'Kumbaya'. For some reason everyone gets what he wants and everyone lives happily ever after, whether the rest of the story leads towards this ending or not.

  2. The Diplomatic (The Non) Ending
    This is where the writer has been racing forward with the tension. The reader's on the edge of the seat, fearing over whether the MC will survive till the ending and don't know what's coming next. The final battle approaches... then... then


    The reader is left unsatisfied as the climax of the novel fizzles out and the MC moves on to get the girl/save the town/complete the quest/etc. The reader flips back several pages to see whether they missed something, but no. The necessary tension just dies so that the writer can quickly wrap up the story.

  3. The Status Quo Ending
    In a novel or film, the character starts out somewhere, does some things and hopefully gets to his destination at the end. So, how does everything go back to the way things were before? These endings make the entire novel obsolete because the character doesn't learn any lesson or gain anything from their journey, instead, they return to their lives in the exact position they've always been in, some times even further down the food chain. What's the point of a novel if the character isn't going to grow as the story progresses?
  4. Wonderful Life Ending
    "Oh, how I wish none of this ever happened..." And, tada, the whole story has been a dream. Hey, don't get me wrong. There are several stories out there that have worked the whole psychosis angle where the character has been crazy or the character is in a coma and it's all a part of his mind (there's a couple of movies out there that play this angle and they're superb) and these stories work. But, to turn around to a reader after they've followed a character's struggle, triumphs and disappointments and say that none of that really happened, that's just kicking the reader and making the whole journey seem pointless. Who wants to follow something to find out it purely doesn't exist... what a let down.

  5. Illogical (Coincidental) Ending
    So, the characters have travelled long and hard over the course of the novel. They've faced tough challenges and gotten back up when they've been knocked down. Now, they just have to overcome the last obstacle, but they need the right circumstances or objects to win and... there they are, with no explanation as to how they got there. These endings have the characters being in the right place at the right time with no explanation as to why they're there apart form they need to be to triumph. Things need to have a cause and effect or else they will seem like a cop out, whether it's a character that somehow happens to stumble upon the MC with the right information needed, the character finds a magic weapon that is indestructible and will vanquish the foul beast, or even the army showing up to save the day and leave the MC to wonder what the heck they were even doing going on the journey that could have killed them to begin with.

  6. Cliffhanger Ending
    I know it's tempting to plan for a series, but seriously, readers pick up a book in order to finish a book, not have to wait (possibly an eternity) to find out what happens next. These endings lead up to the main action, perhaps the hero overcomes that obstacle but then something else comes up and... and... and


    The reader is left waiting until the next story is published to find out whether the hero will live or die, or that crucial piece of information that the hero has just received... what is it? The writer teases the reader so that they will have to get the next book when it's published, but the reader is actually left incomplete and unsatisfied because they've spent so long on a journey just to find out they need to wait 6 months, 12 months, forever to find out what happens next.
I know I've been guilty of a couple of these during the many manuscripts I've crafted, especially the cliffhanger. I never know how to leave the story, after all, life is never tied up in a pretty little package. What about you? Do you struggle with endings? And, have you been guilty of cheating with the ending?


Lindsay said...

I agree with you on the endings that tie things up in a neat little bow = not satisfying.

Endings wise I think - even if its a series- each book should stand alone. That doesn't mean there can't be a hint/teaser of more to come but the main essence of the plot should be tied up properly.

lisa and laura said...

You forgot the scooby doo ending where they magically rip the mask off the villain and it turns out to be the most random person EVER. I hate that. And we've been guilty of all of these at some point or another. I think it's tough to find the perfect end to a book. Above all else you want you readers to feel satisfied and that's tough!

Angela said...

I agree with all points. I probably come closest to being guilty of the coincidental ending, although I don't use it for the ending of my MS. There is one part in my novel that is very coincidental, and while it has concerned me I haven't changed it. There are times in life that coincidences do happen, and it fits with my MS. I am glad it's not the ending, though!

Creepy Query Girl said...

I think the story itself should be resolved by the end of the book BUT I always like to leave a small detail to the imagination. For example, right in the ending chapter of my book, the climax has passed, we know everyone's ok and the good girl has won. But right before the end she discovers something about another character that leaves a question mark for the reader and (hopefully) will push them to read the following stories

Unknown said...

@Lindsay, I totally agree. Things can't always be tied up at the ending. But, I have read several stories that the story finishes, and then they've got an extra chapter which puts the MC in danger again as if to say there's definitely going to be a sequel.

@Lisa & Laura, Doh... I was actually thinking of the Scooby Doo ending as well. It just makes me feel that the writer didn't know who they wanted as a villain so they put random character no 5 in its place.

@Angela, sometimes coincidences work, as long as they're not too far fetched and it doesn't seem like it's just happening because it needs to.

@Query Girl, I actually like stories that end like that, as long as the reader isn't left to wonder what that thing is (Yes, I have read stories where the character finds out the juicy goss but doesn't inform the reader).

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Excellent post, Cheree! You wonderfully highlighted such a variety of unsatisfying endings. I'm impressed! :-)

Unknown said...

Thanks Shannon. These are just some endings that I've noticed that appear countless times in books or movies.

Unknown said...

I have to say that endings aren't hard and they aren't easy. I normally know where I want to be sometimes it's just a point of getting there.

My ending for this current WIP was actually rather easy and I think it was only beacuse this current story is a series so I had somewhere to go with it!!

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Great post! I agree with you on all six points. I *hope* I haven't done any of them - I'll be watching for those problems from now on.

Susan R. Mills said...

Timely post for me! I've been trying to decide between the happy ever after ending I originally wrote and the more realistic not so happy one. You've given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks!

Unknown said...

@Jen, For some reason I always know where I'm going, but I always find it hard finding the right words to finish on.

@Deb, thanks. It's really easy to end up with one of these endings without even realising (I've been guilty of it).

@Susan, thanks. I wish you luck on your ending.

Stina said...

Great post! I just finished reading a YA book in which I couldn't figure out where the climax was. I had to ask someone. Sad, huh? I thought it ended 40 pages before the end of the book. Turns out it was after that, only you needed a microscope to find it.

I'm linking this to my Cool Links Friday post this week. ;)

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